For English-speakers, the word “decoration” has a pejorative flavor when it’s used in relation to art, so much so that it’s often qualified with a dismissive “mere.” Yet the French term décoration has no such negative connotation; it simply signifies (among other things) art that ignores the conventional boundaries of the easel picture to become an integral part of an architectural setting. Fragonard’s The Progress of Love, a series of tableaux enacted by flirtatious couples in idyllic garden settings, now in the Frick Collection, was a décoration designed to enliven the walls of a pavilion constructed for Madame du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV. Matisse’s celebrated 1952 frieze, The Swimming Pool, now in the Museum of Modern Art, was also a décoration, as were the majority of the astonishing papier coupé...

 
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